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VOL. 17, NO. 5, 2004


Short Reports
Use of complementary and alternative medicine by patients with diabetes mellitus

ABSTRACT Background. A wide variety of alternative medicines have beentraditionallyusedforthetreatmentofdiabetesinIndia.We didacross-sectionalstudytoassesstheuseofcomplementaryand alternativemedicinebypatientswithdiabetesattendingour outpatientdepartment. Methods.Fourhundredandninety-threepatientsattending theoutpatientendocrineclinicforallopathictreatmentwere included. They were interviewed to assess their knowledge, awareness and methods of practice of non-allopathic forms of therapy.Informationonthepatientsbackgroundcharacteristics,familyhistoryofdisease,existingknowledgeoftheirdisease and therapy was obtained. Results. The user rate of complementary and alternative medicine was 67.8% and this was not significantly associated withtheeducationalorsocioeconomicstatusofthepatients. Desire for early and maximum benefit was the most common reason(86.8%)forusingtheseremedies.Thepatientsfeltthat acupressurefollowedbynaturopathywerethemostbeneficial alternativetherapies,whilehomeopathywasfelttohavetheleast benefitinthecontrolofdiabetes. Conclusion. There was widespread use of complementary andalternativesystemsofmedicinebyourpatients.Itistherefore necessarytoobtainobjectivedatatoassesstheimprovementin blood sugar level with, and side-effects of, these methods of treatment. Natl Med J India 2004;17:2435 INTRODUCTION India leads the world in the number of patients with diabetes, with an estimated 19.4 million individuals affected by the disease. This number is expected to increase to 57.2 million by 2025.1 Before the introduction of the therapeutic use of insulin, diet was the main form of treatment for the disease and included the use of traditional medicines mainly derived from plants.2 Ancient Indian physicians such as Sushruta and Charaka knew about the importance of diet and exercise in the control of diabetes. However, not much is known about the origin or prevalence of alternative forms of therapy for this disease during ancient times.
Motilal Nehru Medical College, 16/2 Lowther Road, Allahabad 211002, Uttar Pradesh, India RAVI MEHROTRA Department of Pathology SARITA BAJAJ Department of Medicine D. KUMAR Department of Social and Preventive Medicine Correspondence to RAVI MEHROTRA The National Medical Journal of India 2004

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is generally neither taught nor practised in regular allopathic hospitals. Even today, about 80% of the population in developing countries depends on traditional medicine, a fact that resulted in a WHO recommendation to include traditional medicine at the primary healthcare level in these countries. Many of these traditional medicines are from plant sources that do not form the constituents of our normal diet. Among these are herbs, spices, vegetables and fruits. A few vegetables that are commonly consumed in India and have been claimed to lower the blood sugar level include bitter gourd (Momordica charantia), ivy gourd (Coccinia indica) and cabbage (Brassica oleracia). We aimed to assess the awareness and pattern of use of CAM among patients with diabetes taking allopathic treatment at our hospital. We also enquired about their reasons for using CAM. METHODS The study was conducted during 19992001 and patients with diabetes attending the outpatient endocrine clinic were selected by systematic random sampling so as to have a spread of cases over the entire study period. The majority of patients volunteered to participate in the study. All ethical issues were discussed with the patients in detail. Those who did not give consent were excluded. The average attendance in our endocrine outpatient clinic was about 8000 patients per year. On the basis of a pilot survey, it was decided to include about 70% CAM users and an optimum sample size of 464 cases was calculated for 90% confidence levels. All the selected patients were interviewed for their knowledge, awareness and practice (KAP) of alternative therapies other than allopathic treatment. Information on their background characteristics, family history of disease, awareness and pattern of use of CAM, source of knowledge, benefit perceived, etc. was collected on a pre-designed and pre-tested proforma. RESULTS We included 493 patients, of whom 32.7% were in the age group of 4150 years (mean [SD] age 48.8 [12.6] years), belonged to the service class (35.5%) representing all socioeconomic groups (75.6% middlelow group; Table I). Of these, 352 (71.4 %) were aware of CAM and 334 (67.8%) were using CAM (Table I). The use of CAM was not significantly associated (p>0.1) with age or socioeconomic status. The desire for early and maximum benefit was the most common reason for using CAM (290 [86.8%]). Acupressure (66.7%) followed by naturopathy (39.4%) appeared to be the preferred alternative therapies (Table II). Those preferring naturopathy used a wide variety of substances (Table III). About half the patients (168 [50.3%]) were keen to advise others to use CAM. Friends (37.4%) and doctors (23.3%) were the two most common sources of knowledge regarding CAM. In 157 patients (47%), alternative therapy along with allopathy, diet control and exercise was adopted, while 81 patients (24.7%) used only alternative therapies. Table IV shows the use of different methods and the perceived benefit reported by the patients. The maximum benefit was perceived in the group using CAM along with diet and exercise, while the minimum benefit was felt in the group using CAM alone.

TABLE I. Characteristics of the patients (n=493)
Characteristic Users (%) (77.7) (58.6) (74.0) (65.2) (68.2) (69.5) Non-users(%) 2 12 13 56 41 35 (22.3) (41.4) (26.0) (34.8) (31.8) (30.5) Total (%) 9 29 50 161 129 115 53 7 7 126 175 125 98 136 146 100 13 (62.2) (72.5) (69.7) 74 (37.8) 48 (37.5) 37 (30.3) (1.8) (5.9) (10.1) (32.7) (26.2) (23.3) (10.8) (1.4) (1.4) (25.6) (35.5) (25.3) (19.9) (27.6) (29.6) (20.3) (2.6)


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TABLE III. Substances used in naturopathy

Natural substances n (%) Natural substances n (%) (3.4) (2.8)

Age in years 20 7 2130 17 3140 37 4150 105 5160 88 >60 80 Occupation Agriculture Labourer Skilled worker Business Service Others Educational status Illiterate Primary/middle High school/intermediate Graduate and above Other qualification Socioeconomic status Low 122 Middle 127 High 85 Type of food Vegetarian Non-vegetarian Marital status Married Unmarried

Fruits Jamun 167 (Eugenia jambolamum) Jamun seed 113 Bel (Aegle marmelas) 32 Bel leaf 69 Amla (Emblica officinalis) 49 Others 7 Vegetables/seeds Bitter gourd 285 (Momordica tricolor) Fenugreek 232 (Trigonella foenumgraecum) Kalonji (Nigela sativa) 13 Black gram 232 (Phaseolus radiatus) Chowlai/ramdana 70 (Amoradica tricolor) Bajara 39 (Pennisetum typhoidus) Barley (Hordeum vulgare) 53

196 (39.8) 175 (35.5) 122 (24.7) 314 (63.7) 179 (36.3) 467 (94.7) 26 (5.3)

Roots/herbs (51.4) Sadabahar leaf 11 (Catharantus soseus) (34.8) Shilajeet 9 (9.8) Trifla (a preparation (21.2) containing extracts of (15.1) Emblica officinalis, (2.1) Terminalia chebula and Terminalia belerica) 14 (87.7) Bougainvillea 7 Other 13 (71.4) Plant extract Neem leaf 115 (4.0) Nimoli (fruit of neem tree) 16 (71.4) Bamboo stem (Bambusa species) 34 (21.5) Arjun bark 19 (Terminalia arjuns) (12.0) Babool bark 5 (Acacia nilatica) (16.3) Cotton seed 6 (Gossypium species) Gold bhasm 5 Others Ayurvedic powder 27 Other 2

(4.3) (2.1) (4.0) (35.4) (4.9) (10.5) (5.8) (1.5) (1.8) (1.5) (8.3) (0.6)

DISCUSSION In our study, 67.8% of the patients used CAM and 57.8% felt they had benefited from it. The patients had used practically every conceivable herb and fruit, starting from bitter gourd to bamboo shoots. This perceived benefit needs to be investigated. The patients covered all ages and socioeconomic groups. The use of CAM was universal among all ages and socioeconomic groups, and was not related to educational status. The maximal perceived improvement in disease control was with the use of acupressure. It would be tempting to attribute this to the fact that most patients report benefit, at least temporarily, from a procedure. The majority of patients used naturopathy and did not complain of side-effects. On the other hand, homeopathy was felt to have the minimum benefit in diabetes control. This is an important finding and needs to be investigated further. Vaidya et al. have reported similar findings in their study.3 About one-third of users of CAM (31.4%) felt that their blood sugar levels had decreased. These results too need to be objecTABLE II. Benefit and desire for imparting advice on different alternative therapies*
Therapy Naturopathy Ayurveda Homeopathy Acupressure Others Users (n=334) 325 54 43 9 10 Total satisfied n (%) 146 24 14 5 4 (44.9) (44.4) (32.5) (55.5) (40.0) Keen to give advice n (%) 128 19 10 6 5 (39.4) (35.2) (13.2) (66.7) (50.0)

tively verified with blood sugar results before and after starting CAM. A bias towards the efficacy of CAM in lowering blood sugar cannot be ruled out. Interestingly, most patients preferred to take advice regarding possible CAM treatment from their friends and family, especially those who had diabetes. This could be due to the fact that most allopathic medical practitioners either discouraged CAM or were unaware of its benefits. The inability to communicate in the patients language or lack of counselling time may have had a role to play. In an earlier study, we reported the abysmal level of knowledge regarding diabetes not only in patients but also caregivers in this region.4 Of those adopting naturopathy, 87.7% used bitter gourd followed by fenugreek (Trigonella foenumgraecum) and jamun (Eugenia jambolamum). In the management of diabetes, earlier workers have demonstrated an improvement in glucose tolerance with bitter gourd (Momordica tricolor) and vijaysar (Pterocarpus marsupium).5 Many antidiabetic products of herbal origin are now available in the market. Karunanayake et al. studied the effect of bitter gourd on glucose and insulin concentration in 9 non-insulin dependent diabetic and 6 non-diabetic rats, and found a significant reduction in blood glucose concentration in the bitter gourd-fed rats. They
TABLE IV. Patient perception of benefit from alternative therapy
Therapy Only alternative therapy Alternative therapy and allopathy Alternative therapy with diet control and exercise Alternative therapy, allopathy, diet control and exercise Total n 81 75 21 157 334 Perception of decrease in blood sugar n (%) 20 (24.7) 16 (21.3) 12 (57.1) 57 (36.3) 105 (31.4)

* Some patients were using more than one therapy


et al. :



did not observe a hypoglycaemic effect of Momordica charantia extract in rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes.6 In his study, Chacko surveyed patients with type 2 diabetes in an urban population in Kerala and found that the participants relied on allopathic medicines for treating diabetes, but frequently used Ayurvedic medicine and folk herbal remedies as supplements. They named 24 local plants and plant products that were employed to lower blood glucose levels.7 CAM is associated with certain inherent problems such as lack of a regulatory body for CAM drugs and associated practices. The high user rates found by us suggest that it is imperative for health administrators to frame a policy for CAM. There has also been an increasing interest in the use of CAM in developed countries.8,9 Conclusion Neither blanket contempt for nor blind faith in CAM is an ideal approach. The urgency to determine the efficacy of CAM cannot be overemphasized, given the alacrity with which scientists all over the world are keen to patent traditional Indian remedies such as neem (Azadirachta indica) or turmeric (Curcuma longa) for a wide variety of diseases. Traditional remedies should be carefully evaluated and only then used as an adjunct to, if not the mainstay of, drug therapy for diabetes. A literature search did not reveal any systematic review of the prevalence and efficacy of various complementary medicines. As our results reflect the practices of patients with diabetes who

approached the hospital for allopathic treatment, a wider spectrum of patients may help in assessing the usage pattern of CAM. This would have to be done by a multi-institutional, collaborative study. The potential benefits of such a study could be a more detailed understanding of the use of these therapies and identification of promising candidate drugs for further investigation. REFERENCES
1 Ramachandran A, Snehalatha C, Dharmaraj D, Vishwanathan M. Prevalence of glucose intolerance in Asian Indians: Urbanrural difference and significance of upper body adiposity. Diabetes Care 1992;15:134855. 2 Beigel Y, Ostfeld I, Schoenfeld N. Clinical problem-solving: A leading question. N Engl J Med 1998;339:82730. 3 Vaidya AD, Vaidya RA, Nagral SI. Ayurveda and a different kind of evidence: From Lord Macaulay to Lord Walton (1835 to 2001 AD). J Assoc Physicians India 2001;49: 5347. 4 Mehrotra R, Bajaj S, Kumar D, Singh KJ. Influence of education and occupation on knowledge about diabetes control. Natl Med J India 2000;13:2936. 5 Leatherdale BA, Panesar RK, Singh G, Atkins TW, Bailey CJ, Bignell AH. Improvement in glucose tolerance due to Momordica charantia (karela). Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1981;282:18234. 6 Karunanayake EH, Jeevathayaparan S, Tennekoon KH. Effect of Momordica charantia fruit juice on steptozotocin-induced diabetes in rats. J Ethnopharmacol 1990;30: 199204. 7 Chacko E. Culture and therapy: Complementary strategies for the treatment of type-2 diabetes in an urban setting in Kerala, India. Soc Sci Med 2003;56:108798. 8 Mac Lennan AH, Wilson DH, Taylor AW. Prevalence and cost of alternative medicine in Australia. Lancet 1996;347:56973. 9 Eisenberg DM, Kessler RC, Foster C, Norlock FE, Calkins DR, Delbanco TL. Unconventional medicine in the United States: Prevalence, costs, and patterns of use. N Engl J Med 1993;328:24652.